Call to naturalize some expats stirs anxiety in the UAE

Thu Oct 10, 2013 2:10am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Mahmoud Habboush

DUBAI (Reuters) - A call for the United Arab Emirates to consider allowing expatriates to apply for citizenship has sparked a debate about national identity in the Gulf Arab state, where foreigners outnumber the local population by more than five to one.

Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi, a member of one of the UAE's ruling families, is one of the federation's pre-eminent commentators and also one of the most well-known Twitter users in the Middle East, with more than 250,000 followers.

Qassemi's op-ed in a Dubai daily, suggesting that citizenship could be opened to long-time foreign residents who have contributed greatly to society, argued that Emirati society was ready for change.

"Perhaps it is time to consider a path to citizenship...that will open the door to entrepreneurs, scientists, academics and other hardworking individuals who have come to support and care for the country as though it was their own," he wrote in the Dubai daily, Gulf News, in September.

The subsequent outcry suggested that many of his compatriots feel otherwise.

A Twitter hashtag in Arabic, "this writer doesn't represent me", quickly grew to dozens of outraged tweets.

"Don't cozy up to foreigners at our country's expense," wrote one Twitter user under the name Saif Alneyadi. Many were bothered that Qassemi had written the article in English - with an eye presumably on a foreign audience - rather than to the Emirati people in Arabic.

UAE political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla was a rare voice in support of Qassemi for bringing up the subject.   Continued...

People from different nationalities are seen in Dubai October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah